Whatever happened to the promise of hydrogen-powered cars?

Hello, folks! This is our weekly e-newsletter on all issues environmental, the place we spotlight traits and options which might be transferring us to a extra sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox each Thursday.)

This week:

  • Hydrogen-powered automobiles: An concept whose time has come?
  • District power is a distinct approach to ship heating and cooling
  • The steps being taken to cut back the emissions of air journey

Hydrogen-powered automobiles: An concept whose time has come?

(Tobias Schwarz/Getty Images)

Electric and hybrid vehicles are gaining traction in the car market. But what about hydrogen-powered vehicles? They produce zero emissions and do not want charging — you simply drive as much as a station and refill your tank such as you would with a gasoline-powered automobile. They’ve been promised for years — so the place are they?

Nicole Mortillaro did an e-mail interview with Brant Peppley, a professor within the division of chemical engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in addition to a former Canada Research Chair in Fuel Cells and former director of the Queen’s-RMC Fuel Cell Research Centre. Peppley shed some gentle on — and busted some myths about — these potential vehicles of the long run.

How does a hydrogen gasoline cell work in vehicles?

A gasoline cell [FC] automobile is an electrical automobile the place the electrical energy is generated by the conversion of hydrogen and oxygen (from air) on to electrical energy with a byproduct of pure water. The distinction is that as a substitute of getting to vary lithium ions from one state to a different to be able to recharge the battery pack in a battery electrical automobile, you merely refill the hydrogen tank with pressurized hydrogen — a course of that takes about three minutes for a passenger automobile with a spread in extra of 480 kilometres on a full tank.

Is this clear power?

Depends on the supply of the hydrogen. Most hydrogen used within the chemical trade immediately is produced by reacting pure fuel with steam. This hydrogen leads to CO2 emissions. The different method of constructing hydrogen is by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen utilizing an electricity-powered electrolyzer. When that electrical energy is produced from extra renewable power comparable to wind, photo voltaic or hydroelectric or from extra nuclear power (that’s typically obtainable in Ontario), FC vehicles are zero-carbon. By the way in which, when battery-powered automobiles are charged utilizing coal energy, they aren’t zero-carbon. 

If that is so clear, why hasn’t it caught on but?

There are roughly 10,000 FC passenger automobiles being pushed by common customers on this planet immediately. 

The motive they aren’t extra generally seen in Canada (apart from Vancouver) is the shortage of hydrogen refuelling stations. (Editor’s observe: There are additionally some in Quebec.) The solely place you should buy or lease a gasoline cell automobile is the place the refuelling infrastructure is accessible. California has a community of refuelling stations, as do Japan, Norway, Germany and the opposite nations in particular areas. The Hydrogen Council, a world consortium of 60 member firms together with lots of the main automobile producers, has made a considerable monetary dedication to have hydrogen refuelling infrastructure obtainable worldwide by 2030.

Are hydrogen-powered vehicles any extra harmful than gasoline-fuelled vehicles?

No! In truth, there are lots of causes to think about hydrogen-powered vehicles much less harmful than gasoline-fuelled automobiles, and battery-powered automobiles for that matter. Hydrogen dissipates extraordinarily rapidly…. If an FC automobile is in a collision, the hydrogen is rapidly vented and dissipates into skinny air, so to talk, leaving a very inert automobile. On the opposite hand, when a gasoline-fuelled automobile is in a collision, the fuel tank stuffed with liquid gasoline is extraordinarily harmful, and if it ignites might be extraordinarily deadly. 

Likewise, when a battery-powered automobile is in a collision, the lithium batteries which might be on board nonetheless comprise the equal of a number of sticks of dynamite price of power that can lead to electrocution or explosions. It might be extraordinarily harmful for first responders to make use of the “jaws of life” on electrical automobiles as a result of hazard of unintentionally reducing a 300-volt cable.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Reader suggestions

The position of plastics on this planet financial system is an advanced one, and a number of other readers identified that merely reusing plastic for bottled water, as we discussed last week, doesn’t tackle a bigger downside.

Gerry Walsh, for instance, took exception to “a recycling story that promotes, as an essential part of your coverage, the use of water as a commodity. This article does not deal with the essential fact that water should and must be held in common, not taken by an individual or company and then sold for profit.”

Dale Corbett added this: “Among the biggest threats to the planet is consumers equating ‘convenience’ with ‘necessity,’ and an overwhelming belief that life is too busy to seek out alternatives to plastic use, which is nothing more than laziness.”

Also, we’re on the lookout for New Year’s resolutions for residing greener in 2020. Are you making any? If so, tell us.

Old problems with What on Earth? are right here.


The Big Picture: District power

Earlier this week, Emily Chung wrote a couple of stories a couple of “renaissance” in district power. The fundamental concept is that relatively than every house or constructing having a person heating and cooling system, a number of buildings are linked to a central system — just like a municipal water service. District power permits for a wide range of heating and cooling strategies, relying on the situation. Maybe it is from photo voltaic power. Maybe it is pure fuel. Maybe it is the cool water on the backside of Lake Ontario. Here’s a have a look at the way it works.

Hot and bothered: Provocative concepts from across the internet


How are we addressing the environmental problem of air journey?

(Martin Bureau/Getty Images)

Delegates from greater than 200 nations are in Madrid this week to participate in COP25, the UN’s annual local weather convention. 

One of the largest challenges in lowering international carbon emissions is air journey. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), aviation accounts for about two per cent of worldwide emissions — however air journey is barely rising. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts 7.eight billion passengers might be flying by 2036, a close to doubling of the 4 billion who flew in 2017. Here are a few of the measures being taken to deal with the issue.

The trade

In 2009, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) got down to cut back its CO2 emissions by way of:

  • More fuel-efficient plane and sustainable low-carbon fuels.
  • More environment friendly plane operations (comparable to lowering on-board weight).
  • Technology and infrastructure enhancements, together with modernized air site visitors administration methods, to permit for extra direct routes.

In 2016, ICAO airways (about 290 worldwide) additionally agreed to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, which goals to offset 2.6 billion tonnes of emissions by 2035 by way of greater than $50 billion Cdn for local weather initiatives.

Many airways encourage travellers to purchase carbon offsets, fly direct (which makes use of much less gasoline) and even pack much less (lighter planes use much less gasoline). KLM has gone a step additional by encouraging potential customers to consider travelling by train as a substitute. 

Carbon offsets

As CBC News reported earlier this year, the final consensus is that carbon offset applications have improved. But there may be nonetheless debate about whether or not they truly work. 

Kathryn Ervine, an affiliate professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax who has researched carbon offsets, mentioned they’re a method for airways and particular person travellers to appease their guilt, and are not useful. Her suggestion? “Go and find a worthwhile green initiative that you know is making an impact and make a financial contribution to it.”

A carbon tax

Nine European Union nations (together with Germany and France) are calling for an aviation tax. In a letter to the EU chief govt of local weather, the nations’ finance ministers mentioned an aviation tax the place “the polluter pays a fairer price for the use of aviation transport” is important to fight local weather change.

Banning enterprise class

Jozsef Varadi, head of Hungarian financial system flyer Wizz Air, is asking for a ban on enterprise class for flights of lower than 5 hours. Why? It emits extra carbon. How? First and enterprise class seats on airplanes are greater and fewer passengers sit there, which implies the plane’s gasoline is used to maneuver fewer folks. 

This online carbon calculator reveals {that a} round-trip flight in financial system from Toronto’s Pearson airport to London Heathrow produces 4.9 tonnes of emissions. The similar journey in enterprise produces 9.5 tonnes. 

Electric flight

Companies are engaged on constructing all-electric plane. One of them is Vancouver-based Harbour Air, whose CEO will fly a DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver float plane retrofitted with a 750-horsepower electric motor for the primary time on Dec. 11. It must be a couple of 10-minute flight, however it can add to the rising physique of analysis about electrical aviation.

NASA can be taking part in a giant half in that analysis. Its first all-electric plane, the X-57 Maxwell, was unveiled in early October. NASA’s objective is to not construct the primary all-electric industrial airliner, however to assist the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) set up requirements for electrical flight. 

Stephanie Hogan


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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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